The buzz around the Bears right now is mostly swirling around the possibility of what rookie quarterback Justin Fields could eventually become. That will likely unfold down the road, but for now the Bears are diving into one of the NFL’s toughest schedules in 2021.
Only the Steelers’ and Ravens’ opponents had a better winning percentage last season than the collective .550 by teams the Bears will face this season. They’ll take on the defending champion Buccaneers, perennial contenders in the Seahawks and Steelers, plus their usual two games against the Packers.
They open with a Sunday night visit to the Rams, who might be better than all those teams by the end of it. Here’s a look at the entire schedule, which was released Wednesday:
Week 1: at Rams, Sun., Sept. 12, 7:20 p.m.
This is a brutally tough opener for the Bears, especially on offense against a potential Super Bowl team. They went 1-2 against the Rams the last three seasons and managed just 32 total points in the process. The Rams allowed the fewest points in the NFL last season, and Aaron Donald won his third Defensive Player of the Year award. Then they added former Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to boost their struggling offense.
Week 2: vs. Bengals, Sun., Sept. 19, noon
This will be the Bears’ first look at former No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow, who had his rookie season cut short by a torn ACL. It will also be just the 12th time these teams have faced each other, with the most recent matchups being Bears wins in Cincinnati in 2017 and at Soldier Field in 2013. Dalton spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Bengals and thumped them 30-7 last December.
Week 3: at Browns, Sun., Sept. 26, noon
Coming off their best season since 1994, the Browns are eager to make the leap to contender status. The Bears are scheduled to face every No. 1 draft pick from 2016 through ‘20, including Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield (2018) and Myles Garrett (2017).
Week 4: vs. Lions, Sun., Oct. 3, noon
This game is never as easy as it’s supposed to be for the Bears, who had won five in a row despite some narrow escapes before losing at home to the Lions last December. With turnover at the top and trading Stafford for Jared Goff, the Lions are sure to take a step backward — which is really saying something for a 5-11 team that allowed more points than anyone in the NFL last season.
Week 5: at Raiders, Sun., Oct. 10, 3:05 p.m.
The Raiders debuted at Allegiant Stadium, just off the Las Vegas strip last season, and this will be the Bears’ first trip there. This matchup was added when the NFL went to 17 games this season.
Week 6: vs. Packers, Sun., Oct. 17, noon
No team stands to benefit more from the Packers’ quarterback drama than the Bears, who would love to see Aaron Rodgers leave town. He is 20-5 against them since 2007, so the Bears would much rather take their chances against upstart Jordan Love. Whether it’s Andy Dalton, Justin Fields or even Nick Foles, he’ll be the eighth Bear to start at quarterback against the Packers since Rodgers took over.
Week 7: at Buccaneers, Sun., Oct. 24, 3:25 p.m.
The Bears upended the Bucs in Chicago early last season, but the defending champions are bringing back their entire starting lineup for 2021. This might prove to be the most difficult game on the Bears’ schedule.
Week 8: vs. 49ers, Sun., Oct. 31, noon
The 49ers went head-to-head with the Bears to sign Andy Dalton, and the Bears managed to hold them off. Both teams took quarterbacks high in the draft last month, with the 49ers landing Trey Lance at No. 3 overall.
Week 9: at Steelers, Mon., Nov. 8, 7:15 p.m.
The Steelers were overwhelming during their 11-0 start last season, then tumbled to a 1-4 finish and a first-round exit in the playoffs. This is probably Ben Roethlisberger’s last chance before Pittsburgh moves on to a new starting quarterback.
Week 10: Bye
The Week 10 bye is ideal for the Bears regardless of what’s going on at quarterback. It either gives them a chance to get healthy heading into the final eight games or sets up an opportunity to make Fields their starter.
Week 11: vs. Ravens, Sun., Nov. 21, noon
The Bears are 4-2 all-time against the Ravens and haven’t lost to them since a 31-7 drubbing in Baltimore in 2009. It’ll be their first matchup against former MVP Lamar Jackson, who is 24-6 as a starter the last two seasons. While the Ravens are known for their defense, they’ve also been a top-seven scoring offense with Jackson at quarterback.
Week 12: at Lions, Thu., Nov. 26, 11:30 a.m.
The Bears are back on Thanksgiving Day after being left out last season. Before that, they won close ones in Detroit in 2018 and ’19. Their game against the Lions will be followed by Raiders at Cowboys in the late afternoon and Bill at Saints at night.
Week 13: vs. Cardinals, Sun., Dec. 5, noon
The Bears have never faced Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, the top pick of the 2019 draft. He got off to a strong start last season before tapering off as the Cardinals fell apart and missed the playoffs. They lost 4 of 6 down the stretch and Murray posted an 86.8 passer rating amid their collapse.
Week 14: at Packers, Sun., Dec. 12, 7:20 p.m.
The good news with this game is that it’s very unlikely the Bears will have to suffer the humiliation of the Packers ending their season. With four games remaining, the Bears would have to be a total train wreck to be eliminated from playoff contention this early. Also, there’s a decent chance this will be Fields’ first game against the archrival he’s learning to hate.
Week 15: vs. Vikings, Mon., Dec. 20, 7:15 p.m.
The Vikings are at a crossroads. They went 7-9 last season, their defense slid near the bottom of the NFL and Kirk Cousins has plateaued.
Week 16: at Seahawks, Sun., Dec. 26, 3:05 p.m.
The Bears wanted Russell Wilson. He wanted to play for them. In the end, it was a fruitless pursuit for both sides, and now they’ll square off in a high-stakes, late-season game.
Week 17: vs. Giants, Sun., Jan. 2, noon
The Giants already helped the Bears out with the draft-day trade that allowed them to pick Justin Fields and they might help them record-wise here. Even as the Bears sputtered the last two seasons, they managed wins against a Giants team that has gone 18-46 since 2016.
Week 18: at Vikings, Sun., Jan. 9, noon
This game could be two teams going through the motions as they miss the playoffs, or a win-or-go-home finale.